Asian Art Biennial artists demonstrate that art can also affect social change.

The 5th Asian Art Biennial at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (NTMoFA) opened on 19 September 2015 and marks the 3rd biennial for curator Huang Iris Shu-Ping. This year’s theme “Artist Making Movement” expands upon Huang’s 2013 “Everyday Life” to underscore that artists can be instrumental in transforming the everyday.

National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan. Image courtesy NTMoFA.

National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan. Image courtesy NTMoFA.

Founded in 1988 under the auspices of the Taiwan Provincial Government’s Department of Education, NTMoFA was and remains the only public fine arts museum in Taiwan. In a push to downsize the Provincial Government in 1999, the museum was transferred into the hands of the Council of Cultural Affairs (now the Ministry of Culture as of 2012), and has worked hard since to expand its public programming.

The Asian Art Biennial, established in 2007, is one of a series of large-scale exhibitions organised by the museum – including the Taiwan Biennial (est. 2008), the Contemporary Art Across the Strait Exhibition (est. 2009) and the International Biennial Print Exhibition R.O.C. – to implement further international exchange and critical dialogue between Taiwan and the rest of the art world.

Irwan Ahmett & Tita Salina, 'Salting the Sea', 2015, video, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and NTMoFA. Photo: Rangga Aditiawan.

Irwan Ahmett & Tita Salina, ‘Salting the Sea’, 2015, video, dimensions variable. Photo: Rangga Aditiawan. Image courtesy the artist and NTMoFA.

1. Irwan Ahmett & Tita Salina (Indonesia)

The artist-design duo and married couple Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina from Jakarta are known for their series of public interventions in a larger project titled “Urban Play”, and for their documentary work on migrant workers in Indonesia. They were invited to create a new work echoing this year’s Biennial theme “Artist Making Movement”.

Returning to their previous documentary work, the artists have chosen to explore the current experiences and hardships of Southeast Asian migrant workers in Taiwan. The resulting piece, Salting the Sea, features three months of documentary footage examining the living conditions, work environments and legal rights of those travelling to the region for work. The artists also staged a public forum, “Agree/Disagree/Unsure”, in the museum on 13 September 2015. In the hopes of exploring new solutions to issues raised in their work, Ahmett and Salina led a dialogue between migrant workers, policy makers, students, curators, artists and social activists. Segments of this dialogue can be seen in the exhibition.

    Rina Banerjee, 'Mangroves of Alien and Native frozen and foamed, rose and rose, opened and closed and one in all grew calm who knew.', 2014, steel, plastic, nylon, light bulbs, shells, wire, cotton thread and feathers, 133.5 × 69.5 × 80.3 cm. Image courtesy Ota Fine Arts and NTMoFA.

Rina Banerjee, ‘Mangroves of Alien and Native frozen and foamed, rose and rose, opened and closed and one in all grew calm who knew.’, 2014, steel, plastic, nylon, light bulbs, shells, wire, cotton thread and feathers, 133.5 × 69.5 × 80.3 cm. Image courtesy Ota Fine Arts and NTMoFA.

3. Rina Banerjee (India, UK, USA)

Born in Calcutta, India in 1963 and raised in London, artist Rina Banerjee moved to the United States in the 1980s. She currently lives and works in New York City. The artist’s ‘combine-esque’ sculptures feature an assemblage of disjointed objects from various locations and time periods. By pulling incoherent items together, the artist demonstrates the complex global exchange of people, ideas and objects through histories of colonialism, tourism and mass media. As single works composed of elements with various origins, functions and histories, Banerjee challenges notions of authenticity and what it means to be in or outside of a dominant culture.

    Lee Wen, 'Ping-Pong Go Round', 1998-, plywood, table tennis paraphernalia, mixed media, 76 × 500 cm (diameter). An installation view from the artist’s solo exhibition “Lucid Dreams In The Reverie Of The Real”, Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy the artist and NTMoFA.

Lee Wen, ‘Ping-Pong Go Round’, 1998-, plywood, table tennis paraphernalia, mixed media, 76 × 500 cm (diameter). An installation view from the artist’s solo exhibition “Lucid Dreams In The Reverie Of The Real”, Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy the artist and NTMoFA.

4. Lee Wen (Singapore)

Artist Lee Wen (b. 1957), known for his performance works in Singapore, presents his well-travelled Ping-Pong Go Round, a donut-shaped ping pong table that invites participants to jump in the centre and battle multiple opponents at once. Though Lee first conceived of Ping-Pong Go Round in 1998 for an art performance in Australia, the artist has since presented the table in exhibitions all around the world, including Japan, Malaysia, China, Turkey, the United Kingdom, France and Hong Kong. The table’s altered dimensions ask participants to reflect on Asia’s position within a difficult terrain of multilateral political and economic negotiations.

Stephanie Syjuco, 'Money Factory: Economic Reality Game', 2015, mixed media installation, dimensions variable. Photo by Kairon Liu Photography.  Image courtesy the artist and NTMoFA.

Stephanie Syjuco, ‘Money Factory: Economic Reality Game’, 2015, mixed media installation, dimensions variable. Photo by Kairon Liu Photography. Image courtesy the artist and NTMoFA.

5. Stephanie Syjuco (Philippines, USA)

Acknowledging recent youth-related labour and wage disputes in the Taiwan headlines, Filipino American artist Stephanie Syjuco (b. 1974) presents Money Factory: Economic Reality Game, a participatory work that invites museum goers to cut and paste stacks of Taiwanese currency equal to the average earnings of a young employee. After labouring over their stacks of cash, participants may spend their earnings on a collection of cards, each of which feature a necessity, luxury good or life goal. As they begin to choose between cars, starting a family and everyday essentials, participants quickly come to realise that their wages afford them a limited living standard. After partaking in the chain of labour and consumption, the cash made and spent is piled up in a display case as an abstract representation of Taiwan’s high cost of living.

Rachel Chamberlain

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Related Topics: Indonesian artists, Singaporean artists, Taiwanese artists, Indian artists, Filipino artists, biennales, biennials, events in Taichung, lists

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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